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Jennifer Marks

New Beginnings

Early next year, shoppers should begin to see some dramatic changes in home departments across the country.

The first full iteration of Kmart's new creative team will roll out for spring. Target will launch what is said to be an ambitious upscaling with its captive Fieldcrest label. The new Macy's Home team will begin to flex its muscles. And there's new home leadership at Linens 'n Things and Kohl's who will surely look to put a stamp on their respective enterprises.

Also next year, we'll begin to see whether May Co. intends to make good on its promise that Marshall Field's will be allowed to operate as its own entity — as well as whether May incorporates any of the “learnings” that executives keep saying May hopes to adopt from its more fashion-forward acquisition.

Similarly, Mervyn's will have the chance to prove what it's capable of achieving now that it's no longer just a draft-horse pulling the Target sled.

The broader trend is undeniably swinging toward more frequent turnover of fashion looks, more in-and-out life cycles for trend designs and more “celebrity” products, although their runs are likely to be shorter, too.

In a world of 24-hour news cycles, multiple-access electronics and instant gratification, a department that turns but twice a year is horribly out of step with the times. While staples such as solid-color goods and basic bedding make up the backbone of the department, merchants appear to have concluded the department needs more frequent injections of newness.

After all, dropping the price on bed-in-a-bag yet again may raise eyebrows among the cognoscenti, but it isn't sexy. And how many times can you put a 400-count sheet set on promotion before that, too, ceases to thrill the jaded consumer?

As has been noted in this space before, the trick for suppliers will be finding a way to play the in-and-out game profitably. Whether you believe the key going forward is to own production in some part of the world or to own nothing that isn't distribution-related — and there are strong views on both sides — the cycle, and the runs, look to be getting shorter.

The only answer is to adjust, and plunge ahead.

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